Following the Feb. 9 departure of defensive backs coach Daronte Jones, head coach Paul Chryst announced Saturday the hiring of former Badger Jim Leonhard to fill Jones’ position.
Jones left Wisconsin for the assistant defensive backs coaching position with the Miami Dolphins after coaching the Badger secondary for just one season following a three-year stint at Hawaii. Under Jones, Wisconsin gave up just seven passing touchdowns and allowed 173.2 passing yards per game, the seventh-best mark in the country.
Leonhard will join newly-hired defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s staff in a hiring that is truly a homecoming for the former Badger and NFL safety. The Tony, Wis., native walked on to the football program in 2001 and excelled, playing in every game during his Badger career. Following his playing career at Wisconsin, during which he amassed 21 interceptions and established himself as one of the finest safeties in the Big Ten, Leonhard bounced around in the NFL for 10 years, playing for the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns despite going undrafted.
Chryst believes Leonhard developed a deep knowledge of the game during his time at Wisconsin and in the NFL, and that he will be a valuable addition to the Badger coaching staff.
“I’m excited for our players and coaches to be able to work with him and learn from him,” Chryst said in a Saturday release. "What makes Jim special is his desire to teach, to help young men grow and to develop them to reach their full potential. He has a tremendous love and appreciation for the University of Wisconsin and our football program.”
Leonhard was inducted to the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in Sept. 2015 and expressed nothing but love for both the university and the city of Madison. Following his retirement from the NFL in 2014, Leonard and his family moved back to the Madison area permanently in what he called an easy decision.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a place here pretty much since I left, finished school,” Leonhard told The Daily Cardinal after the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at Varsity Hall in Union South. “It’s always amazing to come back and just see the upgrades with the facilities and the amount—what is put into the university, for one, but then the athletic programs, the big money sports and all the small sports as well. It’s amazing to see what they do and the improvement on a year-to-year basis. That’s what makes this place special, the people that back the program, the university. There is something special about this place and that’s what it is, the people.”
While Leonhard faces the difficult task of guiding a secondary with just one returning starter and helping Wilcox fill the void left by former Wisconsin and now-LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, it’s certain that he’ll be comfortable coaching in an environment he’s so deeply rooted in.
Per the release, Wisconsin’s spring practices open March 1, and the inter-squad Spring Game is scheduled for April 23.